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What to Do When You Work for a Narcissist

A covert narcissistic boss is strategic and dangerous. Don’t be an accessory, be the exception

You trusted him. You believed him. He is charming, loyal, and honest. So, you thought.

Instead, you were nothing more than a pawn on his chessboard of pain. You were his talented tactician in his highly calculated mind game of manipulation. He used you and did it so well.

When you work for someone who spends hours devising elaborate plans to make themselves look good at the expense of others, the stress and anxiety are overwhelming and not conducive to your success.

Your work is impressive and you create value for your clients, but the thought of remaining in such an undesirable situation is too stressful to imagine. The question is, when is it time to move on before it sabotages your career?

“She seemed so genuine and insecure. I believed her and supported her. Just like that, she turned on me and the next thing I knew I was asked to leave the organization. For months, I was set-up to take the fall for anything that went wrong. I was her puppet. How could I be so naive?”

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Sound familiar? If so, It’s time to act!

Here are five things you need to do if you happen to have a narcissist boss:

1. Accept the Truth

All the understanding in the world won’t change the situation. The truth is narcissists have an extreme need for personal admiration and completely disregard the feeling of others.

By themself, narcissistic behaviors are complicated, but when a person is a covert narcissist the behavior manifests into strategic, sinister, calculated actions with one purpose; to make themselves look good at the expense others.

These individuals have a hole in their life, a hole so large no amount of pain or suffering they create or inflict will ever fill it. Accept it for what it is and carefully protect yourself with awareness and knowledge.

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2. Set Boundaries

My granddaughter pushes boundaries. It’s difficult for her parents but especially hard on her Mimi. At my house, when she doesn’t mind, she is put in timeout. The timeout is standing in the corner with her nose on the flower on the kitchen wall. She doesn’t like it, but it works. She will point to the flower and say, “I don’t like that flower.”

You might not like it, but as I do with my granddaughter, it’s time to set boundaries. Don’t let yourself get sucked into their drama. Don’t let them charm their way into your world. When you create limits, it is liberating and life-changing. Don’t put yourself in timeout. Here are a few responses to help set boundaries:

  • “I trust you will make the right decision with…”
  • “I know you will handle this situation well…”
  • “I am not comfortable with this topic; maybe you should talk to…”
  • “I think this is topic would be something the entire team needs to discuss.”

When it comes to boundaries, my friend Mark says it best, “Stay inside the guardrails and you will be safe. It’s when you go outside the guardrails; you can get hurt.”

3. Don’t Engage

Long emails, which put you on the attack, set them aside and respond carefully. The 1:1 conversations, which are supposed to be about your work, but instead end up being about them, set a time limit and stick to it. How do you do this?

Tell your boss that you value his or her time and a one-hour meeting twice a month is plenty of time to discuss your work. Use your calendar to help. Set up other meetings or activities to immediately follow those conversations. To be respectful, it’s essential you honor people’s time. Having another place to go is a great escape.

Get off social media immediately. When your personal life is on social media, it’s a perfect way for them to strategize on how to use it against you. Do it right now. Take a deep breath and unfriend them. Do it! Go ahead and push the button. Doesn’t that feel great?

I know what you’re thinking, “What do I do if they ask me why I unfriended them?” Smile and say, “I’m taking a break from social media. I am much happier when my work life and personal life are kept separate.” Smile, and walk away.

Remember, covert narcissists are rarely extroverted, gregarious, and flamboyant. In fact, their most successful cover is one of silence. Along with their quietness, they also, appear shy and unsupported. They thrive on playing the victim.

When you are bold and forthright, it will surprise them. They are intelligent and will sense a shift in the force, but this will cause them to take a step back to create a new strategy, giving you time to plan. You must counteract their behavior with your strategic plan.

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4. Be Accountable

You are not someone’s pawn; you are not a victim. You are an individual with choices. With choices comes responsibility for making the right decisions and controlling your responses and actions. Make a choice not to blame but hold yourself accountable.

If you need help, talk to a friend (preferably someone who doesn’t work with you) and ask them to help you. There are also support groups that specialize in assisting individuals with how to deal with narcissistic behavior.

Hire a life coach. They will help you set goals and boundaries. They will role-play and practice your responses, and are an objective professional to support your new-found freedom.

5. Act Now

When someone yells, “Fire,” people pay attention, they start looking for an exit. It’s instinctual. You act. Dealing with a covert narcissistic boss is no different. You need to act not react. Reacting puts them in a place of power to manipulate. When you act, you’re in control.

If the pain of working in this environment is toxic, it’s time to formulate your exit strategy. Organizations have emergency procedures for fires and storms; you need an emergency procedure for your life. Transfer to another department, if in debt, create a plan to dig your way out. If it means working two jobs to support yourself or your family, so be it.

A positive environment far outweighs fatigue. In fact, removing yourself from the dangerous, toxic environment could be invigorating.

Covert narcissistic bosses are smart, strategic, and dangerous. The only person they care about is themselves. Their life is a series of hit and runs, and they rarely get caught. When you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is accept the truth, set boundaries, don’t engage in the drama, be accountable, and act.

Choose to take a stand. Don’t be an accessory, be the exception.

I’ve heard it said, “If you leave, they win. I disagree. Just like a leopard, a covert narcissist can’t change its spots.

This guest article originally appeared on How To Deal When Your Boss Is A Covert Narcissist.

What to Do When You Work for a Narcissist

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). What to Do When You Work for a Narcissist. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 1 Jan 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.